It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a gentell Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as improvished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.
Sarah Waters novels are always eagerly anticipated by her many fans and “Paying Guests” doesn’t disappoint. All the familiar elements are there, a fastidious re-creation of English society and the value of times and an impeccable rendering of the historical period, in this case 1920’s London. Add to that the usual twists and turns of the plot, where nothing is as it seems. The main characters are France Wray and her mother, who are of the genteel class, but have fallen upon hard times as the saying goes. They take in “paying guests” or lodgers from the new Clerk class, a young couple named Lillian and Leonard Barlow. This signals the beginning of a friendship between the spinsterish Frances who is only 26 years old and the slightly younger but glamorous Lillian.
The marriage of Lillian & Leonard seems loving one minute and ambivalent the next , and then a brutal murder occurs in the salubrious suburb of Camberwell. It turns out that Leonard has been hiding something and Lillian has her own secrets, meanwhile the smitten Frances becomes embroiled in this web of deceit. The Police start investigating the murder and it becomes a game of cat and mouse. The tension is palpable and Waters cleverly manipulates the plot, so that the story becomes a page turner that grips the reader to the end.
Reviewed by: Katherine